Social media shreds a main argument for the Electoral College
© Hill Photo Illustration/Garrett Evans

The result of the election has led to another popular vote vs. Electoral College debate. This time, however, there is a new argument for why the Electoral College is no longer needed to accurately represent the country’s will.

The Electoral College was a brilliant system in a time before social media, but just as this new technology has changed so many other aspects of society, it too should be the reason for evolving from the antiqued way the United States elects a president.

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As a quick refresher, a main, modern argument for the Electoral College is that without it in place, politicians would ignore rural states and low-population areas. Campaigns would only concentrate on high-population states, and more specifically, metropolitan areas, because that is where more voters are located. Meaning those living in rural Iowa may never have access to the candidates on the ballot.

Therefore, by giving each state electoral votes, candidates would be accountable to a variety of states’ interests and force interaction with those populations. This was a legitimate argument that held up for over 200 years — until the rise of social media.

One key part of the Electoral College argument is the access aspect. The public needs to have access to the presidential candidates so that the voters are able to interact by asking questions directly to them, hear them speak, and learn about official positions straight from the source.

This can all be done through social media now and here’s why.

Watching candidates speak

Rallies and speeches have become a hallmark for politicians, and there is certainly a place for them in campaigns. Before some of the new technologies of mass media, such as TV and radio, it was the only way someone in the country would even have the opportunity to see a candidate.

With the evolution of the internet, though, everything changed. Cable news stations will broadcast a rally several times a day and post them online. Additionally, most campaigns will broadcast their rallies from social platforms such as Facebook Live or Periscope, which are live-streaming services. Not to mention many people at the rally are broadcasting it from their phones, too.

Not having the opportunity to see the candidate is no longer an issue. A TV isn’t even needed; with just an internet connection a voter has full access to unlimited campaign speeches.

Asking candidates questions

While being able to watch candidates is a must, the argument could also be made that it is not enough. People should be able to ask questions, and that is something that can only be done in person. Not anymore.

Social media has allowed for direct access to the candidates. From Twitter chats, to live video Q&A sessions on Facebook or Google, to Reddit interviews, there are multiple ways for anyone to engage with candidates.

Whether a person is living on a farm in the midwest, or has an apartment in a coastal city, everyone has the same access to a candidate on social media.

Learning about policy positions

Voters once learned about a candidate’s policy positions in mainly two ways; either from the mainstream media or from the candidate directly.

This could present a problem if you lived in Alaska where access to a major newspapers could be scarce, or the campaign might not mail literature due to cost.

With social media, though, people have more access to information than ever before. Often for free.

Take Facebook for example — in one place a user can find stories from the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, all the network and cable news stations, posts and analysis from pundits from all ends of the political spectrum, and information directly from the campaigns. And instead of mailing literature to voters, the campaigns can now target ads in users’ social feeds and tailor it for specifically for them. Information is more abundant than ever.

Adapting

It’s always crucial to reevaluate an intent, and what the result actually ends up being. What the Electoral College has become is a system that has turned a few states into battlegrounds, forcing the candidates visit the same places over and over again. Instead of spreading across the nation to meet voters, candidates spend most of their time in just a few strategic states.

Isn’t that exactly what the Electoral College was trying to avoid?

This allows a majority of voters to be overruled by a minority of voters. That is an antiqued system in a time when social media shreds a major argument for having an Electoral College.

The 2016 election was the first time in the social media era that a candidate who won the popular vote lost the presidency. Time to make it the last.

Adam Chiara is an Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Hartford. He has worked as a legislative aide in the Connecticut General Assembly, a journalist, and as a public relations practitioner. He's on Twitter @AdamChiara.


 

 

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